I had a chance to sit down with the guy behind Explore Vashon, Vashon Islands new Tourism website and service that people have been asking us about…. So I just called him and set up an interview. I asked him his thoughts on the “state of tourism” on the island:
VIB: Vashon’s just Vashon. Why do you think it should be a “tourist location”?
Sean: “I think this “Vashon is just Vashon” thinking is how many on Vashon Island feel. We get up, we drive to town, we buy food, we commute off the island via a ferry.. everything is very..day to day. It gets boring. I like to think about our island as a destination. There are billions of people out there that have never been on a ferry. Ever. Billions of people who have not experienced what it is like to be on an island surrounded by water. I feel there is something special about our island and quite frankly, no one is talking about it, and it’s hurting our local economy on the island. Millions people visit Seattle each year. That’s a lot of potential visitors. Our small businesses have it tough with our small population. There are only so many people Perry’s get make a burger for ya know? I see something special on this island. I see something special ABOUT this island. Business people shy away from tourism on Vashon because the numbers don’t add up, so I am going to make up my own rules and figure out HOW to make the numbers work… and I think I have found the secret sauce so to speak.”
VIB: What are your thoughts on locals not wanting Vashon to grow… to become more populated?
Sean: (smiles again and thinks for a moment)” This is a touchy subject. Islanders love the island because it is the way it is, which is great. I love the island too. However, I think hardcore Vashonites feel that for it to stay special, it can’t change… and I disagree with that statement. I really feel that change is ALWAYS good and should ALWAYS happen.. it’s life, it’s the universe. So, to answer your question regarding population, yes, I like the idea of keeping it limited. We don’t need another Mercer Island. Mercer Island has no identity.. no heart IMHO. What I want to do is encourage visitors to the Northwest to check out our little island… not just for a day, but for the weekend. We have plenty of things to do here.”
VIB: What’s your skin in the game for increasing Vashon Island Tourism?
Sean: (smiles) “To be completely transparent, its two fold. First, I love the island. It made me who I am today and I feel, as many of my friends and family that the island has a magic to it… something that keeps you grounded. Second, I want to make a living. (laughs) Of course I want to make money, but I want to make money while at the same time, helping people and doing what I love. No matter how hard I try to kick this stigma, I’m a promoter, plain and simple. I love that people have a passion for what they do and where they live and I love talking about it. So, focusing on getting tourists to Vashon satisfies my soul and will eventually satisfy my bank account…. but that’s a long way off. At the end of the day, I am going to retire on this island.. I want to think that I left it in better shape than when I got here.”
VIB: What’s your background? Were you in sales?
Sean: “No. haha.. I really hate sales. I have more of a technical and marketing background. I have worked for many of the big software companies and it pays the bills, but really where my passion lies is in getting people’s attention and diverting it to where it can help. I became fascinated by search engine optimization for websites.. the art of knowing how Google and Bing ranks websites on the internet. I love Photoshop and graphic art.. I can build a website from scratch in just a couple of minutes.. the technical side of things you can teach to a monkey.. knowing people, understanding behaviours and more importantly conveying VALUE to consumers is where I think I’ve got game. I have also created some festivals. The Bothell Blues Festival was my first entry into event management. We did it for 3 years in Bothell and it was a huge success. LOTS of work, but I loved the whole game of finding talent, finding sponsors, event venues, volunteers, creating merchandise, everything! It was a blast.. again, no matter how hard I fight it, I just love promoting. I just said, @#$%IT! I will focus on what I’m good at,”
VIB: So just how are you planning to increase tourism to Vashon Island?
Sean: “There’s the million dollar question. This is my secret sauce. We have a number of projects currently in flight and all I can tell you now is that we have a website we are starting with.. Explore Vashon. This site will be the spring board for all of our activity for events, promotions, whatever. It will feed our mobile apps and email lists as well. We have been working on this project for over a year in stealth mode and soon we will be ready to unleash it. I really can’t wait.. it’s like waiting for a child to get born… I’ve seen the ultrasounds for over a year.. time to meet this kid. HAHAH. One thing I will say… this has been a tough, tough ride. I have promoted many, many events and businesses online, but getting your message in front of the RIGHT people.. not Vashonite.. heck, YOU’RE (Vashon Island Blog) audience is Vashonites. They are the ones that care about the new happy hour menu at The Hardware Store or that bananas are half off at IGA.. haha. My audience are people that have no idea how special our island is.. AND those same people are bringing over a wallet full of money to spend here. Visitors benefit. Island businesses benefit. The Island benefits. My job is to find those people who are looking for an adventure.. and get them on that boat.”
VIB: How does art and music play into tourism, do you think it’s a strong enough reason to visit the island?
Sean: “Look, let’s be honest, you can get plenty of music are art, GOOD music and art over town. So to answer your question honestly, no. I don’t think it’s SOLE driver for tourism…. HOWEVER, this is where the magic of our little island comes in.. the music and art, ALONG with all of the other fantastic activities, food, products, experiences… all of these things together I feel.. if promoted correctly 100% is a driver for tourism to Vashon. Again, we here on the island are thinking small, day to day. My team and I are thinking about Vashon in 2030, where do we want to be and I think we have a great vision.”
VIB: You mentioned “rethinking how we view the island”, how exactly do you get that done? How do you get businesses to rethink the way they have been doing business for years?
Sean: “Great question. It comes down to support. We created a platform/website called 98070 Meida.. (laughs) original name, right? 98070 Media is focused on small businesses and helping them rethink the way they are doing business on the island. The island is really lacking the technical knowhow to change the way businesses interact with potential customers. When we looked at increasing tourism on Vashon, it starts with local businesses, plain and simple. There’s no way our Vashon tourism vision will work, unless we are all working together, rowing in the same direction. I own another business that focus on small business online marketing, social media, seo, all that stuff. So to me, this all is a no brainer.. but heck, there are SO MANY Vashon real-estate agents with old, terrible websites.. some don’t even HAVE a website.. Same with some of our local businesses!!… sorry, I get all fired up when I start talking about this, I’m pretty passionate about it. My point is that I needed to implement some sort of support mechanism for small businesses to make this whole thing work. The island has nothing like this until now.”
VIB: You make it sound like a cause, a movement. How can people or businesses get involved?
Sean:” Oh, it TOTALLY is. I really see our little island becoming something HUGE. It’s not right now.. at least not to people off island. We’re going to change that. So to answer your question, for people to get involved, just share your experiences on the island. Get people excited about where we live. It starts with us. Businesses should REALLY be thinking about their audience. Does Sonny at CFM Carpet Cleaning care about tourism? Probably not, but The Lodges on Vashon sure do, every restaurant should, all of our awesome wineries should as well. If you’re a business here, just send me a note firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s see how we can weave your business into our vision and get some exposure from tourists on Vashon.”
VIB: Last question. It sounds like increasing tourism on Vashon and increasing the number of people visiting the island might piss off folks who don’t want a change. What do you say to them?
Sean: “Life IS change.”